Murray Peden, runs an off-grid auto repair workshop in his home in the hills high above the isolated rural community of Little River, Banks Peninsula.
He has lived here off grid for 17 years, with his wife, Tori, and their two young children.
The steep southeast-facing section is 700 metres from the nearest power supply. “I thought that could either be a disadvantage or an opportunity. I looked at it as an opportunity.”
Peden realised the potential of the site when he saw the small spring-fed creek running through it. This provides their drinking water and has also been harnessed to drive a mini hydro plant.
Although the unit produces only 125 watts, which is less than that required to operate a large household light bulb, it is sufficient. The electricity is stored in a bank of batteries, and because it is charged 24/7 the battery pack doesn’t need to be large to cope with the fluctuations that would come from only using solar-powered photovoltaic panels, as most systems use.
His system has since been reinforced with 450 watts of photovoltaic panels, but as they receive only three hours of sunlight during a winter’s day, the hydro is essential.
“The idea of not having power, not being able to turn lights on, doesn’t appeal. I did research and worked out we could set up here and live, not just survive. I want to have the TV and a microwave, but the idea of not paying power bills is always appealing.”
A coal and wood-burning range heats the water, warms the house via under-floor heating pipes, and cooks the meals.
Operating an automotive workshop on alternative power has required some clever thinking. Most commercial machinery requires three-phase power, and this isn’t available from Peden’s system.
His vehicle hoist, essential in a workshop, operates on hydraulics, which require an electrical pump. A part from a forklift has been modified to do the job, and the A-grade mechanic is proud of his handywork. “I sometimes work in town, and their hoists are a bit slow. Mine’s better,” he grins. Tyre machines and compressors have also been bought with their power requirements in mind.
Peden was initially quoted $25 000 to supply mains electricity. His alternative power system has cost slightly more than that to install, but ongoing costs are minimal.
“It’s so neat telling people, ‘I don’t pay power bills’.”
“Logically, anyone who goes to alternative energy and hasn’t got a solar hot water system is an idiot. I haven’t got a solar hot water system”, laughs Peden.
Peden’s six neighbours are also on alternative power. “The power companies are never going to get a look in here,” he says. “If I have a power cut it’s because I’ve caused it.”
Tori laughs, “That’s because you don’t clean the leaves out of the hydro intake”, she gently chides.
A small price to pay for self reliance.
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